Her Hidden Genius Book Review

There are some men (both in the past and present) in this world who cannot fathom the idea that a woman can be more than a wife and a mother. When she dares to enter his world, he will do anything in his power to strip away her power and status.

One of these women is Rosalind Franklin. One of the scientists who discovered and published her findings on DNA, her male colleagues claimed her work as their own after her passing. Franklin’s story is told in the new novel Her Hidden Genius. Written by Marie Benedict and published in January, Franklin was ahead of her time. In the years after World War II, the daughter of a respected and wealthy British Jewish family chose work over marriage and motherhood.

Employed by labs in both London and Paris, she was the only female on nearly all-male teams. While working in the UK, three of her male co-workers did everything they could to upstage and unnerve her instead of coming together to reach a common goal.

Benedict does it again. She gives the spotlight to a woman who rightly deserves it. Up until I read this book, Rosalind Franklin was a complete stranger to me. I am thoroughly ashamed that it has taken almost a century for her to be given the credit she is rightly due. The narrative immediately sucked me in. By the time I got to the final page, I felt like I knew her, both a person and a feminist icon.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Her Hidden Genius is available wherever books are sold.

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I Let You Fall: A Romantic Drama Book Review

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Sometimes, it takes a dramatic event to shake us out of that rut.

Sara Downing‘s new supernatural romance novel, I Let You Fall: A Romantic Drama was published on June 20th. Eve Chapman has it all: a supportive family, a loving boyfriend, and a job that makes her going into work worth the agita. Everything changes when she wakes up on a hot London night in the hospital. Watching as the doctors remove the bandages from a woman who has had a head injury, Eve is shocked to learn that she is the woman on the operating table.

While she is physically immobilized by the coma, her soul is stuck between life and death. Eve discovers that she is not alone. Luca Diaz is also frozen in this realm. He becomes her guide, instructing her on how to support those who are still alive. As time passes and they spend more time together, Eve begins to reassess her life choices.

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I loved this book. Eve’s story is powerful. It reminded me that life is short, we never know when our turn will come. It is also a reminder that second chances are possible, it is merely a question of taking them or walking away. Though the romance is threaded into the narrative, what made the book for me was Eve’s journey of discovering what (and who) was important to her.

It is an amazing read. Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

I Let You Fall: A Romantic Drama wherever books are sold.

Thank you to TCK Publishing for the ARC.

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel Book Review

A bookstore is much more than it seems to be. It is a magical place in which dreams become reality and we can travel as far as our imagination takes us. It is also a place of business in which office politics and society’s rules play a role in the work environment.

Natalie Jenner‘s new book, Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel, was published last month. It takes place in 1950. Bloomsbury Books has been in London for a century, catering to the city’s book lovers. While times have changed, the store remains firmly stuck in the past. The staff (who are mostly male) are ruled by a list of 51 rules that are unbreakable. Despite this, the three female employees are doing what they can to break boundaries.

Vivian lost her titled fiance to World War II. He was killed in action, leaving her heartbroken. Five years after the war, she is focused on her career. Fashion-conscious and incredibly smart, she knows that she can do more than her current responsibilities.

Grace finds solace in her job. Married with two young sons, she is the sole source of income for her family. Though she loves being a mother and is trying to be a good wife (in spite of her husband’s faults), she would love to do her own thing.

Evelyn has raised herself up from being a farm girl and housemaid via a university degree. When she is turned down for an academic position due to her gender, she takes the job at the bookstore. Just because she is down does not mean that she is out. She has a plan for the future.

I love this book. Like its predecessor, it is well-written, charming, and completely entertaining. I was immediately drawn into this story of three women navigating a world and a job in which they are second class. Instead of shrinking and meekly accepting their roles, they stand up for themselves. It is a lesson that unfortunately, is just as relevant today as it was 72 years ago.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Bloomsbury Girls: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

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Ridley Road Review

Hate, in all of its forms, is always around us. It is an unfortunate part of the human experience. Despite our advances in science, medicine, education, and technology, it remains ever-present.

The new Masterpiece series, Ridley Road (based on the book of the same name by Jo Bloom) premiered last weekend. The heroine of the series, Vivian Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) is the daughter of a Jewish family in England in the early 1960s. She is expected to live as her mother and grandmothers did before her: give up her job, marry the boy chosen for her, and take care of her husband and children. But Vivian wants to be more than a housewife and mother.

She follows her boyfriend Jack Morris (Tom Varey) to London. Jack is a part of the 62 group, an underground Jewish organization who are fighting against the growing fascism in the UK. Going undercover as a member of the neo-nazi group led by Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear), both Vivian and Jack play a dangerous game of going along with their new identities while trying to keep their relationship alive.

I am absolutely loving this series so far. It’s James Bond meets a love story with a feminist coming of age narrative and a background of combating prejudice. What makes the program for me is that our heroes are ordinary people. It is, I think a reminder that change does not always come from the top. It comes from the person on the street who sees a wrong and does what they can to right that wrong.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Ridley Road airs on PBS on Sunday night at 9PM EST.

The Duke Movie Review

We all want to make the world a better place, in one way or another. The question is how we go about it.

The new movie, The Duke, is based on the true story of the theft of the Portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya in London in 1961. The accused thief is Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), a do-gooder/dreamer with Robin Hood ideals. The problem is that his head is in the clouds and unable to hold down a job for any reasonable length of time. This forces his wife, Dorothy (Helen Mirren) to keep the family financially afloat by cleaning Mrs. Gowling’s (Anna Maxwell Martin) house.

While Kempton teases the police by sending clues, he offers to return the painting on the condition that the government will take greater care of its elderly citizens. When he finally returns the portrait and has his day in court, the trial becomes much more than it was expected to be.

I love this movie. Broadbent and Mirren are at the top of their game. What makes this film special is that it is a reminder that one person can change the world, even if they don’t have the logistics quite down. It has humor, it has heart, and it is simply a good reason to go to the theater.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Duke is currently in theaters.

Moon Knight Review

The ancient world has always been fascinating. The mixture of mythology, history, and curiosity about life back then has piqued the interest of modern people for centuries.

The new MCU/DisneyPlus series, Moon Knight, premiered last Wednesday. Steven Grant/Marc Spector (Oscar Isaac) is a former member of the US Marines. Living in London and working at a museum gift shop, Steven/Marc has a figurative weight attached to his ankle via dissociative identity disorder. Blacking out and then having vivid dreams of another life, he encounters Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke). Arthur is an enemy from one of Steven/Marc’s other life. To say that he is dangerous is an understatement.

He soon finds out that he has the powers of an Egyptian Mood G-d. Though the powers appear to be a windfall, there is a downside that he quickly discovers.

I walked into this series completely blind. This is the first time I’ve heard of Moon Knight. Knowing nothing about what I was about to watch was a good thing. I had no expectations, therefore I cannot be disappointed by any changes that have been made from the original text.

I liked the inclusion of mental illness. It is one more step away from stigma and one step closer to acceptance. My problem is that I was confused. Maybe it’s the plot or maybe it’s because I am totally new to this world. Either way, the jumping back and forth was a bit confusing. What did make me want to at least watch the next episode was when he turned into his superhero alter-ego.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

Moon Knight is available streaming on DisneyPlus.

Flashback Friday: Dickensian (2015-2016)

Good writing has a way of setting the reader/audience’s imagination on fire as few things can.

The television series, Dickensian (2015-2016) takes the characters from within the individual books of Charles Dickens and weaves their lives together in 19th century London. Starring Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Rea, Alexandra Moen, and Tom Weston-Jones, the series asks the viewer to believe that all of these people know each other and interact as they go about their business.

The premise is certainly interesting. The cast is nothing short of top-notch. I’m not a huge fan of Dickens, but I can see where the spark of the idea came from. The problem is that the spark dies quickly. I stopped watching after a few minutes, left with a bitter taste of a narrative promise that was not kept.

Do I recommend it? No.

Mansfield Park Character Review: Maria Bertram

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

For most of human history, a woman’s choice has been marriage, and uh, marriage. If she was lucky, she received a basic education or was taught in the style that was “appropriate” for a lady. This idea was especially persistent among the upper classes. From an early age, girls were prepared for the day when they would no longer be a Miss and become a Mrs. On the surface, this life seems relatively simple. But upon deeper reading, it is easy to see how frustrating these constraints could be.

In Mansfield Park, Maria Bertram is fully aware of what her future holds. The eldest daughter and third child of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, she enjoys the perks of status, wealth, and beauty. Behind closed doors is another story. Both of her parents are emotionally distant from their children. Her father is all about business. Her mother prefers to spend more time with her dog than her offspring. The only adult in the room is her aunt, Mrs. Norris. But Mrs. Norris is not there to pick up the pieces left behind by her sister and brother-in-law. Selfish and self-gratifying, she indulges her sister’s kids in hopes of getting a piece of the pie.

Of all of the young men in the area, Maria’s choice of future husband is Mr. Rushworth. His appeal is his fortune and the escape she will have from an unhappy household. Willing to overlook the fact that he is both stupid and physically unattractive, it is the out she is looking for. Shortly after accepting Mr. Rushworth’s proposal, the brother and sister duo of Mary and Henry Crawford joins the Bertram’s social circle. Both are charming, intelligent, and the life of the party. Knowing full well that her marriage is one of convenience, Maria has no problem flirting with Henry. She also ignores that he is also flirting with her younger sister, Julia.

Expecting a proposal from Henry, she is disappointed that he does not act on their flirtation. This leads her to marry her fiance and take Julia with them on her honeymoon. Upon starting her new life as Mrs. Rushworth in London, Henry comes back and picks up right where they left off. This leads to an affair, a failed elopement, and being excised from polite society due to her status as a divorcee who left her husband for another man.

To sum it up: The choices we make define how we live our lives. Even when those choices are limited, the actions we take have an impact. Maria could have ended her engagement to Mr. Rushworth, which might have opened the door to a respectable life and a happy marriage. But she chose another path, leading to disgrace and humiliation.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family Book Review

The Passover story and the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a potent one. In one way or another, we can all relate to the idea of breaking free from whatever is holding us back.

Laura Arnold Leibman‘s new book, Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family was published back in August. The book traces the ancestry of Blanche Moses. Moses, whose Jewish-American ancestry goes back to the Revolutionary War, tells the story of her biracial ancestors. Both Jewish (mostly Sephardic with a handful of Ashkenazi) and black, her ancestors had to navigate a world in which they could be doubly ostracized while passing as Caucasian. Living in such different places as New York City, London, and the West Indies, it was akin to a game of chess, in which every move must be calculated before proceeding.

I wanted to like this book. The subject is one that is certainly of interest to me. The problem is that it is slow to read and void of the excitement that I should have had while answering the question that the book asks. While I appreciated this deep dive into a part of Jewish history that is not always in the spotlight, the promises laid out by the author are not met.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

Flashback Friday: The Mummy Returns (2001)

The purpose of a sequel is to take the narrative of one IP and then build on it by adding additional characters and stories. While this task may seem simple, the reality is that it is complicated. Especially when its predecessor is well regarded.

The Mummy Returns (2001) takes place after The Mummy (1999) and before The Scorpion King (2002) and. Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) are now happily married and living in London with their son. They are still in the archeology game and believe that Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) will never enter their lives again. But when an artifact emerges and Imhotep’s remains arrive in the city, they will again have to send him back to the world of the dead.

I appreciate the addition of a precocious, troublemaking child, Evelyn’s growth as more than a damsel in distress, and the backstory set in ancient Egypt. It adds depth, allowing the audience to see Imhotep as more than just a generic villain. But my main problem is that Evelyn still needs Rick to rescue her, even when she claims to have learned some form of self-defense.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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